Always Forward

I’m currently sitting at my table in my sports bra, updating MS Word so I can start on anthology edits for Crone Girls Press, my back slathered in aloe vera sunburn treatment I bought at Target this morning. This weekend was grueling, challenging, and emotional–but in the end, it was a good weekend. It was the Santa Barbara Long Course Triathlon, and it was the first triathlon longer than a sprint that I have attempted AND finished!

In my last post, I wrote about my attempt to knock out the Santa Cruz Olympic distance tri, and the heartbreak of a punctured tire that took me out of the running. Literally. Not only was I crushed to not finish, but I needed to complete a triathlon distance longer than a sprint before attempting the SuperFrog 70.3 next month. If I had to go to San Diego not having proven that I could handle more than a sprint distance triathlon, I would probably not have even gotten in the car to go down there. After Santa Cruz, I was seriously doubting myself and my ability to find the endurance to do this sport.

So, here’s the Santa Barbara rundown… The spouse and kids and I packed up the RV and headed down to the Flying Flags RV Park in Buellton, setting up camp and heading to a local restaurant for some good pre-race carb-loading. That night, I got what could be termed as very uneasy, restless sleep. I was good until my bladder woke me up at one in the morning, and then I just couldn’t fall back. When my alarm went off, I forced myself to hydrate, eat a banana and a bagel, and get the kids in the Jeep so I could go to packet pickup. I hate picking up a race packet the morning of the race, but there was no choice. I got most of the stickers in the right places while the family headed back to catch up on sleep, stood in a long, long, long line to hit up the bathroom, and sort of laid out my stuff in some semblance of order. Luckily, other members of The Triathlon Club of Monterey were also competing, and so saying hello and chatting with them helped to steady my nerves against that sinking feeling in my stomach.

The time before start both took forever and sped by way too fast. Finally, they were calling my wave start–age group women 25-44 AND Athena/40-over (this will be relevant at the end of the story.) When the race director called “GO” I channeled my buddy and told myself ATTACK ATTACK ATTACK and by the time I finished chanting it, I was in the water. Luckily, the surf was gentle and the water was almost warm. Not “don’t wear my wetsuit warm” but not uncomfortable. I started swimming, keeping each buoy in sight, telling myself “Just get to that orange one. Now the yellow one. Now the orange one. Now the yellow one. HOLY CRAP SUN GLARE WHERE’S THE BUOY? Oh, there it is … Okay, just go straight. Okay, don’t worry, all the later waves are passing you but that’s okay. Yay, the buoy! Yay, I’m on my way to shore! Oh crap, I’m the last one out of the water … again.”

I got out of the ocean after the one-mile swim feeling tired. In Santa Cruz, I’d come out feeling energized, re-vitalized, ready to rock and roll. But here, I felt lead in my arms and legs. I trotted up to transition, unzipping my wetsuit, feeling thirsty and wanting to sit down. In transition, I stripped off my wetsuit, put on my socks and shoes and looked for the extra water bottle I brought. Couldn’t find it. By this time, almost everyone was out on the bike except for me and one other guy. I made the decision to leave my water bottle, thinking that I had one on my bike, and there was a water point on the bike course.

Leaving out of transition, I hopped on my bike, rode for about a quarter of a mile, and was promptly passed by the dude I’d been in transition with. Now, I was the last person in the race. But I couldn’t think about that. I just concentrated on riding. Everything felt slow. I kept panicking that my tire was deflating. I worried because my legs felt like they did AFTER a long bike ride and not like they should at the beginning of 34 miles. And then came … THE HILLS. One after another, followed by steep downhills, many of which I couldn’t see the end of and so was braking because I didn’t want to crash. I also realized, by the number of people passing me, that I wasn’t – YET – the last one on the course. Finally, I reached the halfway point. I had consumed about 3/4 of my water bottle, which had a 3/4 powerade/1/4 water mixture. As I rode by the water bottle station, the volunteer held out a full bottle of Gatorade and said, “Water? Gatorade?”

Readers. MY DUMB ASS said: “No, thanks, I’ve got some,” and it was only when I was halfway down the next hill when I realized what I’d done. I started to worry, but also put it out of my mind. Either I would make it … or I wouldn’t, but there was nothing to be done now. I also remembered where I had put my water bottle in transition. Oh, and that I’d forgotten my sunglasses. Oh, and to put on sunblock. And oh yeah, probably should have used more chamois cream because that was getting uncomfortable. Finally, about 3/4 of the way, I rounded the corner and found YET ANOTHER HILL. This one … it just kept going. And going. And when I thought it couldn’t go anymore … nope. Kept going! Here, the guy from transition who had passed me when we started off came by and passed me again. This time, I knew I was the last person on the course because the sweeper vehicle started frog hopping ahead of me, then would wait, then would come back, and I started to see one of the race officials on a bicycle more often. On this hill, I swear, I wanted to make it all the way without getting off the bike and walking, but I had to stop three times. Each time, I’d walk about 30-40 feet, then hop back on and ride until I couldn’t anymore, then repeat. I don’t think I have ever been so happy in my life to see a road go flat and then start to angle down…

When I got back to transition, I finished off my water bottle, racked my bike, and got ready to jog/walk the last part of the triathlon–the 10-mile run. I drank a bunch of water from my spare bottle, ate some more dates, and remembered to put on sunblock. At this point, my arms were dead weight and I missed large swathes of my back. I knew that I wasn’t the last person on the course because I had passed one person who had stopped their bike at the top of the very last hill, but it was a matter of a few minutes before they came into transition. At this point, some people had already finished the triathlon, while the majority of the pack were coming around the bend of the last couple of miles. I headed out, the glimpse of the large crowd cheering runners in at the finish line the last opportunity I would have to see that.

I told myself to FOCUS. One mile at a time. True, this would be the longest I’ve run since injuring my knee in 2012. But I could do it. I’ve been building endurance, I gave myself permission to walk when I needed to, and I was going to complete this race. My watch is set on a timer to buzz me into a three-minute run and a one-minute walk. I only managed to run a straight three minutes a couple of intervals, but I managed to keep up an alternating jog and powerwalk. Remember the guy who passed me twice on the bike? Here, I caught up to him and jogged past. I also passed one more person. There’s no shame in being the last person on the course, but the mental game of telling myself “Don’t slow down or you’ll get passed again!” helped keep my steps moving forward. The sun … well, there was no shade for the first and last couple of miles on this course, which was out and back. I knew it was going to be rough when I got to the end of the first mile and saw another competitor, on their way back in, hunched over and puking. I was also feeling dehydrated, but luckily there was a water/Gatorade station every mile. (They were getting ready to tear down, too, in fact I had to tell one station there were two people behind me because they were radioing their intention to close up.) Readers, I walked through every single one of those stations and took one of each, and even then, as I came into the last mile of the course, I started feeling the early signs of a heat injury. I walked the last mile and a half, just telling myself that I couldn’t quit, I’d come too far.

Finally, on a long stretch of recreational trail, with the ocean on my right and the stereotypical California line of tall palm trees on my left, I spotted the blue-and-white flags of the finish line. As I got closer, I saw that, as expected, most of the crowd and volunteers were gone and people were packing up. I spotted my spouse and my two little Bugs, who cheered for me as I ran (jogged? limped? stumbled?) past. When I entered the chute, there were about four or five ladies who remained at the side of the finish line who clapped as I came on in. I passed over the timing strip and took a seat, handing off my chip to a volunteer as another one gave me ice bags to put on my back and down the front of my tri top. And … I got a medal. A finishers medal. A shiny piece of metal that says I have it in me to run a mile, bike 34 miles, and run 10 miles and not give up, no matter what.

Lessons learned from that day… First, get proper rest and hydration before the race, and make sure to hydrate during the race. I’m going to invest in a second bottle cage for my bike, as well as clip-in pedals. Next, lay out EVERY SINGLE THING that I will use. When I didn’t see the sunblock or sunglasses, I forgot about them. When I put my extra water bottle in my bag–I couldn’t find it. I must remember to assume that once the race starts, I’m going to get suboptimal when it comes to the concentration game, and so I need to make everything as easy as possible. Never ever ever turn down hydration on the course. Just take it, and if I can’t finish it, tuck it in one of my tri top back pockets. Finally — I’ve been trying to make PB&J sandwiches work as far as nutrition goes. I need to stop trying to make this happen. It’s not going to happen. Time to find an alternative to go with the pitted dates that DO work, and test it before the next big race.

And finally … I did this event swimming one buoy at a time, riding one five-mile bike ride at a time, running one mile at a time. Always moving forward, with the end in site. And I made it. From this past month, I know that the possibility of not finishing is always present, but that I can also move past defeat and find a way to accomplish my goal.

And remember that Athena/over 40 women’s division? Three of us signed up. I came in second.

There’s work to be done for the future, but this weekend was a blast, and showed me that that future–one in which I compete in and finish endurance races–can be accomplished.

Peace.

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